21 July 2022 –
In 2021, the UN General Assembly Special Session against Corruption (UNGASS 2021) passed the Resolution A/RES/S-32/1, adopting the Political Declaration, a “common commitment to effectively addressing challenges and implementing measures to prevent and combat corruption and strengthen international cooperation.”
The Political Declaration includes a commitment by UN Member States to “fostering a culture of accountability, transparency, legality, integrity and fairness in the public sector, including by applying anti-corruption obligations and measures, codes of conduct and other ethical standards for all public officials, including executives and law enforcement officers, as well as prosecutors and members of parliaments and judicial bodies, bearing in mind their independence, and those subject or exposed to high corruption risks.”
It also speaks to “promoting the development of public ethics and integrity and other related programmes for public bodies, taking into consideration their institutional characteristics and domestic legal frameworks, and provide training to public officials, ensuring that, where appropriate, public bodies have the mandate and capacity to monitor the results of such programmes.”
Under paragraph 7, Member States commit to “strengthening efforts to prevent, identify and manage conflicts of interest, including by assessing and mitigating corruption risks and through effective and transparent financial disclosure systems, with information disclosed by appropriate public officials made available as widely as possible, and [to] use innovative and digital technology in this field, with due regard for data protection and privacy rights.” It is also recognized that an independent and transparent judicial system that is in line with the principles of judicial ethics, including integrity, plays a crucial role in preventing and combating corruption.
The 7th Sub-Saharan Africa regional meeting sought to look at the principles of public and political integrity vis-à-vis the UNGASS Political Declaration (PD). Speakers interrogated the PD and highlighted advocacy ideas and areas of cooperation ensuring the implementation of the Articles of the PD.
A Regional Perspective on the UNGASS Political Declaration
Bazira Henry Mugisha, Executive Director at the Water Governance Institute, Uganda
Mr. Mugisha pointed out that at the center of the discussion on the Political Declaration is the fight against corruption. He proposed that the anti-corruption movement therefore look at the root causes of corruption as a starting point, since corruption has been spoken about for years and we seem to be addressing only the symptoms. Speaking to the riches and the wealth in Sub-Saharan Africa and the paradox of poverty found there, he underscored that there are factors we must be ignoring which contribute to the causes of corruption and under-development.
He cautioned that we look not only at the frameworks at the international level that have perpetuated corruption, but also at inherently weak institutions, political systems and therefore corrupt politicians, and poor education systems that do not properly train individuals where government officials have a bigger political strategy that they are trying to protect. Geopolitics also come into play when international development partners do not hold leaders to high standards of accountability as specified in the Political Declaration. Due to other interests, that accountability at the national level is compromised. This deficit is one of the root causes of corruption and perpetuates a situation of corrupt politicians in power in most developing countries in Africa. Political and public integrity begin with cultivating a culture of accountability and integrity – it is therefore important that when we speak of international frameworks, that we also look at the systems we create and promote in terms of values such as those highlighted in the Political Declaration.
Rufyiri Gabriel: Director of l’Observatoire de Lutte contre la Corruption et les Malversations Economiques (OLUCOME), Burundi
Mr. Gabriel spoke about the work they are attempting to do, using the Political Declaration as part of the anti-corruption tools the organization employs. OLUCOME has been working on identifying all the recommendations, of not only the Political Declaration, but also the Review Reports to engage with authorities on needs to be addressed in line with existing anti-corruption laws. The Political Declaration needs strategies to monitor its implementation and the UNCAC review reports are one of those that OLUCOME is exploring.
He pointed out that civil society is trying to ride on the strategy employed by development partners who favor anti-corruption planning and policy implementation. There are some who posit that funding would be provided to government on the basis that they implement the recommendations in the UNCAC Review country report. For civil society to engage and to monitor the Political Declaration, they have attempted to identify the key points in the declaration and have included them in an advocacy document shared with technical and financial partners.
Adekunle Lukman: 21ST Century Community Empowerment for Youth & Women Initiative (CEYWI), Nigeria
Mr. Lukman explained that Nigeria is in the process of adopting the National Anti-Corruption Strategy which is the doorway to fighting corruption in the country, used concurrently with any international anti-corruption instruments such as the Political Declaration. He posited that CEYWI has, in the spirit of implementing the UNCAC review recommendations and any other addendum, engaged with the technical unit on governance and corruption reform. CEYWI has had the opportunity to participate in the review process which is facilitating their role in following with the implementation.
As an example of ensuring political and public integrity in the political system Mr. Lukman mentioned promoting integrity in the electoral system in Nigeria. He underscored that within the Independent Corrupt Practices & Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), there is an educational department, which works closely with civil society and the media, especially to track public finances in Nigeria, as well as monitor campaign financing. CSOs are working closely with the ICPC to see how misconduct in electoral processes can be reduced. Nigeria just signed into law an Electoral Act that reduces the incidents of corruption in the electoral processes, and also introduces technology. Civil society is working closely with the ICPC to monitor the implementation of the law. This monitoring can be applied to the implementation of the Political Declaration when it comes to fighting corruption, by meeting commitments of the PD.
The UNCAC reviews in Nigeria have shown that there is a lack of coordination on anti-corruption. From the feedback of the UNCAC review, there is a lot of duplication in what national agencies are doing with public resources. It is therefore important to look at the PD and see what it proposes when it comes to effective and efficient coordination of anti-corruption efforts by States Parties to the UNCAC.
Open Discussion & Exchange of Views
Speaking to the role that civil society can play, Mr. Mugisha underscored that the commitment by Member States is very important as the Political Declaration raises the bar, and governments have to look at corruption through the lens of ‘survival or extinction’. He also highlighted that there are some governmental institutions that look at civil society as interfering, but others are changing their perspective because of the way CSOs contribute via information sharing and/or public education. Civil society can play a role here, in tracking implementation of the declaration and the progress of member states in their implementation.
The declaration offers an opportunity to civil society to hold leaders accountable in implementing what they have committed to. Civil society can start engaging with the UNCAC focal points in government on the PD and the implementation of its commitments. It is well known that in the legal and institutional frameworks, gaps and loopholes present a challenge to the fight against corruption. The Political Declaration speaks to the policies and institutional mechanisms States have to fight corruption, and it should be seen as a recommitment to the fight against corruption.
In conclusion, the PD constitutes yet another tool to use to hold governments accountable in the fight against corruption. Focal point engagement is crucial to raise awareness on the Political Declaration. At the end of the Declaration, the UN General Assembly recognizes the importance of committing to its implementation, even considering holding a follow-up special session of the UNGASS on corruption. This demonstrates the seriousness with which the General Assembly views the intention and the spirit of the PD.
Some final questions raised to ponder on concern the inclusion of women and youth. Does the PD speak to how corruption influences these groups? How can we bring these issues to the table when we speak to our governments about the implementation of their commitments?